When George Morris gives you homework, you get down to business. That’s the mindset driving Meagan DeLisle, who was assigned 50 hours of work in the saddle after riding for George earlier this year.
Two months ago I lived out one of my greatest dreams — riding with George Morris. (You can read my account in Part I and Part II.) Of course, as it always seems to go, reality was nothing like the dreams in my head. You see, my dreams definitely didn’t include falling off twice, getting six stitches, and being told I had rushed into this opportunity — but my dreams also didn’t include George telling me to go home, do some homework, get 50 hours of professional instruction, and to come back to ride with him again.
For many, my reality might have seemed a bit less than ideal. After all, we all want to do our best when in the presence of greatness. I have had a lot of time to regroup and recollect on the events of that weekend I can positively say that I wouldn’t have wanted my trip to have gone any differently. Stitches and all, that weekend pushed me out of my comfort zone and inspired me to work harder and do more because it felt like my hero just might believe in me.
I Have Never Anticipated Homework So Much
The next few weeks I was ready to work. To document my pursuit to learn as much as possible in the 50 hours George challenged me to, I created a blog called The Next 50 Hours. My coach and I set to work, planning my lessons around the critiques George had regarding my riding.
- Strengthen my leg
- Educate my hand and develop a solid release
- Grow stronger
- Push myself out of my comfort zone
My first lesson back was…. entertaining. Joey had just returned to full duty after several months off from multiple injuries and I was recovering from what I call “post-traumatic stitches disorder.” My mind was in a bit of disarray and when Joey got strong, I had unfortunate flashbacks to my last tumble with George. I began to grow worried that I had lost my confidence over the weekend, but my trainer pulled me aside for a much needed pep talk and we were on our way.
We have spent a lot of our time focusing on flatwork, especially since old man winter has made his appearance and we have been mostly limited to our smaller indoor ring. The refresher course was exactly what I needed to get myself back on track, mentally and physically, and it allowed Joey to get back into shape from his time off. Stirrupless work, lateral work, and work specific to each aid became the norm. To supplement my riding, I started working out with some ladies from work and made my best effort to get my butt in the saddle as much as possible.
Ten Hours In
We are officially ten hours into the 50 that George challenged me to and everything has changed drastically. First and foremost was my attention to horsemanship. I began taking a look at all of my practices and improving them so that I was the best rider I could be from the ground up. Daily tack cleaning and inspection, more thorough grooming and more attention to each little detail were immediately implemented into my regime.
My leg has grown stronger, but there is still a small swing that we are focusing on eliminating. The biggest change so far, I would say, has been the way I make each decision in the saddle. Previously, I hopped on and just rode. I didn’t take riding as the science that it is — I just kind of went with the flow. Now, I plan and execute and iron out all the wrinkles in our plans. If Joey is struggling in the turns, we take time off of fences to do circles and serpentines to build up his strength and my muscle memory. If my hands creep down low, I do lots of exercises to keep them up and even. If my leg begins to swing, off come the irons.
While I felt like I was getting better, I still didn’t feel like I had made that much improvement. I have always been my own worst critic. It wasn’t until after our first show back just a few weeks after the clinic that I started to realize the improvements that Joey and I were making as a team. We laid down several solid trips the first night of the show and several of our competitors met us out of the ring to tell us how great we looked and how far Joey had come over the season. A complete stranger came up to meet Joey and told us that we were his favorite pair to watch: “effortless and smooth” was how he described us. At the end of the show, the announcer told us that each round we had over the weekend just got better and better.
When I got home and unpacked, I pulled out the videos that friends had taken of our rounds and replayed them over and over again in awe. We did look tons better compared to the first show of the series back in March. And our lessons since then have done nothing but continuously improve.
This horse used to spook at the slightest things, but here he is jumping around on a chilly, windy winter day without a care in the world. He didn’t even mind his baby brother, Flash having a bit of a dragon-spell in the background!
Where is Meagan’s Mindset?
Ten hours have definitely made an impact, so if I ever doubted the homework George assigned me I definitely don’t now. I am motivated more than ever to keep on with the hard work to push myself even harder during the next 40 hours of our training. The changes I am making in the saddle are reflecting in my personal life as well. I am waking up earlier and getting more hours of sleep. My attention to detail at work and home has tripled. I definitely feel as if the push in my pony life has carried over to my personal life.
I still have people ask me what was the most valuable lesson I gained from the clinic with George, and at first I couldn’t find the right answer. After some thought and reflection on the entire weekend it was that no matter what, you never stop learning. There were juniors, amateurs, and professionals that attended the clinic. Many of them had been riding and competing their whole lives. Some of them train horses or other riders. Some of them import fancy warmbloods from Europe for resale. Some of them compete at the highest of levels. But all of us learned something new or something on which we needed to place a heavier focus. We were all equal in George’s eyes — we were all equestrians who wanted to get better at what we love.
So every single day I ride as if I haven’t ridden before. I don’t grow numb to the critiques that seem to repeat themselves, instead I soak them in and use them to drive myself forward to be better horsewoman. I used to think my dreams were far-fetched and that there was no way I would ever get to the level I wanted to in this industry. I also used to think there was no way I would ever have the chance to ride with George Morris, but I did and it appears as if that chance may roll around again in 2018. Now I know that if I continue on with this level of commitment and continue to make smart financial decisions in my personal life that one day, I can make my dreams come true. And that is the best feeling in the world.